Practice What You Preach
by Kel Willis
Interact Magazine 1990
Volume 1 Number 2
Some time ago I was asked to conduct the funeral of a man who was not well known to me. Some of his closest family and friends offered to write for me a brief summary of his life. Knowing the man had made his mark on the academic world, had founded what is now a large successful business and had accumulated considerable wealth, I was surprised to discover in what folk had written about him, no emphasis upon these achievements! All of the emphasis was upon the quality of his life and character. Obviously people were far more impressed by the kind of person he was than by his achievements.
There is certainly a fundamental lesson here for church leaders. The impact and effectiveness of our role as leaders – be it as pastors, elders, deacons or in some other position – will be largely determined by the quality of our lives.
There are two primary levels of leadership evident in the New Testament church: elders and deacons. Eldership is always spoken of in the plural. Indeed the idea of a single elder ruling in the church has no real Biblical support. Two words are used to designate eldership. The first ispresbuteros (elder), derived from the Jewish system of leadership. The other, episkopos (bishop or overseer), comes from the Greek system. The two words refer to the same group of people (Acts 20:17, 20 and Titus 1:5-7). Then of course there are the deacons, diakonos, meaning those who serve.
It is very important to note that the only difference in the New Testament between the two groups is seen in their primary role. The character qualifications are the same ( 1 Timothy 3). Indeed those in leadership at all levels of the church should be godly people. God is more concerned about our character than he is about our service. It should be clearly understood by the church that leaders are not extraordinary Christians, and at the same time it should be recognised by the leaders that they are to be examples of the kind of Christians ordinary people can become! This modelling principle is the key to effective leadership.
Every true leader has followers. that’s basic to being a leader! A very real problem in many of our churches is that people are chosen and given the title leader without any evidence of real existing leadership. They don’t have followers and a leader without followers is a contradiction in terms. The questions we as leaders should be asking therefore are, ‘Whom are we leading?’ and ‘What and where are we leading them to?’
An important ley in leadership is to constantly bear in mind that church congregations will invariably reflect their leadership. Therefore what we desire in our congregation should first be evident in us, their leaders. Do we desire a warm-hearted church, where real fellowship and love for each other are evident, a church that is concerned to reach out into the community and that is responsive to God and His Word? then these things must first be evident in our church leadership.
The teaching and preaching program in any church is very important. However if the Bible input is not supported and affirmed by leaders who model the message being proclaimed, its impact will be undermined and inhibited (cf. 1 Thess.1:5-10). there are three important aspects of leadership that we should note:
1. What the leader is in terms of his life and character.
Paul’s final instructions to the Elders at Ephesus in Acts 20:28 began with a plea for them to watch out for their own personal walk with God: ‘Keep watch over yourselves.’ The qualifications for the seven leaders chosen to serve in Acts 6:3 were that they should be ‘known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom’. Their reputation as godly examples was to be recognised by all (see also 1 Tim.3:1,2 and 1 Thess.2:10). It is of interest to note the number of times leaders are said to be examples to the church (1 Tim.4:12, 1 Peter 5:3, 1 Cor.4:16,17, Hebrews 13:7).
2. What the leader knows, in terms of His understanding the Scriptures.
Tragically, many in positions of leadership in the church are Biblically illiterate. Paul’s words to the Ephesian elders was to ‘be shepherds of the church of God.’ Shepherds both lead and feed the flock. In Titus 1:9 we are told that an elder must be firmly committed to God’s Word, able to instruct in sound doctrine and refute error. Frequently pastors speak to me about their concern at their lack of leaders who are able to effectively lead and contribute to the lives of others. I believe there is only one really effective answer to this problem, and that is for the pastor of a church leader to select a small group from within the church, who have potential for leadership and disciple them. This is the real message of 2 Timothy 2:2.
3. What the leader does in terms of his ministry to others.
Of course, this will be determined by a number of factors: experience and maturity, spiritual gifts and abilities, and the opportunities we take to develop these.
Probably the three terms most applied to leadership in the New Testament are ‘example,’ ‘shepherd,’ and ‘servant.’ Too many leaders focus on the status they perceive their role to have, rather than on the Biblical concept of servanthood, Jesus Himself being our model when He washed the disciples’ feet (Matt.20:25,26). Servanthood is an attitude of heart, first towards God and then towards people (Phil.2:5,6, and 1 Thess 2:5,10).
As leaders we should constantly re-affirm that the church is about people coming to know Christ, being a part of His body, growing to be like Him and reaching out to the world. Our goal therefore is ‘that we might present every man perfect (complete) in Christ Jesus’ (Col.1:28,29).
Leadership is a great privilege and a great responsibility. Whatever we do, be it preaching or teaching, leading a youth club or small group, administration or evangelism, it is the servant heart that models the character of Jesus.
Rev Kel Willis is the Director of Christian Growth Ministries Inc.
© Rev Kel Willis (1 July 1990)